Farm Tales: Daniel the Devil
Growing up, Scottish Blackface bottle lambs were much coveted for us kids. Not only are they decidedly the cutest, with their coal-black faces spattered with beautiful flecks of white, their wavy, bright, wool and speckled legs, but because of their superior breeding as hill sheep, their mothering skills are superb, meaning less chances at adorable SBF babies for us to raise.
It does happen from time to time though. On one such occasion, a young mother had given birth. All seemed to be going well, but we noticed the wee lamb, big-boned with generous white splotches on his face, didn’t seem to be thriving so well. At a respectful distance my dad and I watched behind the fence. He shook his head as we watched the tottering lamb nursing clumsily.
“He’s keen, but I just don’t think she has the milk. What do you think?”
Whether he actually sought my advice or simply wanted me to feel valued, Dad often would ask me my opinion on husbandry issues. I pondered for a moment, not wanting to seem too eager to rip the lamb right off and have another pet for myself.
“I think -” I began “ We should give them a day or two.” Dad nodded.
“Probably wise.” I beamed inside that my opinion was deemed wise, and we set off toward the farmhouse, Dad calling the collies back.
But with watchful waiting, the pair didn’t get much better. The lamb still seemed hungry, and the mother’s udder underwhelming. We decided that he might need to be hand-reared after all. I tried to hide my excitement, obviously unsuccessfully.
“You know, Lacie. Wayne called me again this year…” He began. I instantly bristled. His friend Wayne had three kids, similar in age to me, and each year they had called, pining for a bottle baby to call their own. Of course, I had selfishly declined the offer with enough stubbornness that my Dad had to let down his friend as I hoarded all the babies for myself.
“I really think we ought to think about letting them have a turn, you know.”
I wanted to fight, but the truth was that he was right. Not only did I already have several Cheviot bottle babies already, but I was expecting a litter of angora bunnies any day now, and I had my studies to think of. It was a lot of responsibility for a seven year old. After I reluctantly agreed, we captured the lamb, stomach tubed him, and gave Wayne a call. The children were ecstatic as they came to pick him up, showering him with affection and naming him Daniel.
He was quite reluctant to leave his mother, which was hard to see. However at four days in, leaving them together would have most certainly resulted in a dead lamb being found in the pasture on morning rounds.
A little time passed and my jealousy assuaged. I had my hands full of lambs and baby bunnies to distract me anyway. After a few weeks, we got a call from Wayne again. He and his family were going on vacation, and needed a lamb-sitter. I happily agreed - what luck! I would get to spend some time with the woolly lamb after all.
I soon discovered that Daniel had not taken so well to his status as bottle lamb. Most of the time a lamb can be bottled trained within a few feedings, but the longer they are on their mother the harder it becomes to train them. After a month, Daniel still wasn’t taking the bottle willingly, and he showed his displeasure by peeing on demand on whoever was trying to feed him. I discovered this the first day the hard way. In the small four-panel pen, I still had to chase Daniel down to catch him, and as I held him he kicked obstinately the entire time. I forced his jaw open and quickly tucked the bottle in his mouth, and milk drooled copiously down his chin and all over me as well. Sure, he swallowed a few drops, but I had no idea what had kept him fed and strong the past month with this sort of behavior.
After a few minutes of struggle, he peed on me. This is fairly typical for lambs as feeding elicits elimination sometimes. What’s not typical is that, after pausing the feeding to go get changed into my second farmiest clothes, he immediately peed on me again. Another time, I trudged up to my room and got changed, starting to become frustrated. But I wasn’t one to let a little lamb get the best of me, so as many times as he peed on me, I changed my clothes again. Why I didn’t just wait until the feeding was over, I’m not sure, but the better part of the day passed that way: attempting to feed him and changing my clothes.
My closet became bare, and eventually all that was left was my frilly, fluffy, puffy, handmade Easter dress that my mother had sewn me. Seeing no issue with this, I put it on and obstinately headed back to feed that little bugger.
Me wearing a good example of the fluffy dress.
But this time - he peed on me again. Now I was really in a bind. No clothes, and still a hungry lamb. I brainstormed a plan. From the kitchen cupboard I collected two plastic shopping bags, the disposable kind, cut holes for my arms and head in one and two holes for legs in the other and tied the handles together. It worked surprisingly well, and was in fact waterproof as well. Daniel dejectedly finished his bottle, peeing all the while, knowing he’d been beat.
It was about this time that Dad came back from work, and questioned my outfit choice. I explained what had happened during the day, and he stifled a laugh. After that, we did Daniel’s owners the favor of training him to drink out of a bucket. They confirmed this peeing trick was a daily struggle, and never asked us again for any more bottle babies. I did feel bad that their introduction to cossets was so disappointing, but also relieved that Daniel hadn’t become my permanent charge.